The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal appellate court located in San Fransico, California, and having jurisdiction over several western states, has upheld the Pledge of Allegiance’s “under God” phrase. This is the federal court of last resort for the entire 9th Circuit (local readers here in Houston are under the jurisdiction of the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals located in New Orleans).
Interestingly, the original pledge as written in 1892 did not contain the phrase “under God.” It was added in 1954 after then-president Eisenhower’s publicly saying he supported it in response to the threat of communism.
When first penned, however, its author socialist minister Francis Bellamy (1855-1931) intended for it to be used in any country.
In its original form it read:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The version that we know today, and the one receiving the attention of the 9th Circuit, reads:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Indeed, the Houston Legal Issues Examiner remembers reciting this every morning in elementary school, and now both my young daughters know the words by heart.
The challenge to the words “under God” was brought by self-described atheist Michael Newdow on behalf of his daughter, alleging that the phrase violated the Establishment Clause of the United States’ Constitution. That particular clause, located in the First Amendment, has been interpreted to mean that the government is prohibited from passing legislation to establish any official religion, or from preferring one religion over another, or even from preferring non-religion over religion. The exact verbiage of the clause in question reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today issued its opinion, penned by Judge Carlos Bea, that owing to its “ostensible and predominant purpose [which] was to inspire patriotism,” the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause. The Court reversed also an injunction banning students from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in the district’s schools.
In a lone dissent, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote that the “under God” phrase has an “undeniably religious purpose.”
You can read the opinion filed today, March 11, 2010, in its entirety here.
Appeals from this court — the intermediary appellate level after the district (trial) courts — head to the United States Supreme Court.
For a more complete telling of the history of the Establish Clause, including decisions and “tests” issued by the US Supreme Court, go here.
What do you think of the 9th Circuit’s decision? Does the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violate the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause?
For more info:
9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion
ABA Journal: 9th Circuit Upholds Pledge’s ‘Under God’ in Public Schools
Pledge of Allegiance words & history
United States’ Court of Appeals information
First Amendment at Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute
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